Putnam, Ann, Sr.

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Putnam, Ann, Sr.

The Testimony of Ann Putnam, Sr. against Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse (1692)

Reprinted in Major Problems in American Colonial History in 1993

Edited by Karen O. Kupperman

As the New England winter tightened its icy grip, February 1692 drew to a close in Salem, Massachusetts. Two more girls—Elizabeth Hubbard and Ann Putnam, Jr. —joined Elizabeth (Betty) Parris and Abigail Williams in having fits and seeing visions. At the time of her "bewitchment," Ann Putnam, Jr. was only twelve years old (see her biography and primary source entries). She was the daughter of Ann Putnam, Sr. and Thomas Putnam, a local farmer who had become quite prosperous. The Putnam family was one of the largest and most powerful in Salem Village, and Thomas's wealth made him an ally of the Reverend Samuel Parris. Suspicions that witchcraft had afflicted his daughter, and later his wife, made Thomas Putnam a strong force in the arrests of accused witches.

Unlike some of the other village girls who took part in the story-telling sessions at the Parris household that ultimately led to accusations of witchcraft, Ann Putnam, Jr. lived with both of her parents. While two-parent households are usually beneficial to children, there is evidence that the unstable behavior of Ann Putnam, Sr. had a devastating effect on the Putnam family—and, ultimately, the entire Salem community. The elder Ann was a disinherited daughter; her father had been wealthy, but when he died she got nothing. The money from his estate was divided between his wife and sons. Ann tried unsuccessfully to sue for her inheritance, and as the years passed she grew more embittered. She married Thomas Putnam after moving to Salem with her sister. When her sister's three children died in quick succession, followed shortly by the sister herself in 1688, Ann's mental stability was severely shaken and she went into a decline. By March 1692 she was suffering from violent fits and claiming to be haunted by specters.

Following is an excerpt from the deposition given by Ann Putnam, Sr. on May 31, 1692, in which she described the "tortures" inflicted upon her by "witches" Martha Corey (also spelled Cory) and Rebecca Nurse. They had also been accused by Ann Putnam, Jr. Both women were upstanding members of the community, yet they were also outspoken in their opposition to the witch-hunts. Corey, who was sixty-five years old, was the fourth person and the first church member to be named as a witch. Nurse was seventy-one, deaf, and bedridden. They were arrested and eventually executed on the basis of the Putnams' charges against them.

Things to remember while reading The Testimony of Ann Putnam, Sr.:

  • This deposition was taken at a time when language differed slightly from what it is today. In some places you will see "th" denoting past tense where in today's language you might see a "d" or an "ed." An example of this would be "testifieth" rather than "testified."
  • The Putnams had long been bitter enemies of the Towne family, and therefore enemies of Rebecca Nurse, who's maiden name was Towne. Many historians have speculated that many of the accused witches were put to death for these long-standing disputes that they had with some part of the Putnam family or Putnam family friends.

From The Testimony of Ann Putnam, Sr.

Thedeposition of Ann Putnam, the wife of Thomas Putnam, aged about 30 years, who testifieth and saith that on the 18th March 1692, I beingwearied out in helping to tend my poorafflicted child [Ann Jr.] and maid, about the middle of the afternoon I lay me down to bed to take a little rest; and immediately I was almost pressed and choked to death, that, had it not been for the mercy of a gracious God and the help of those that were with me, I could not have lived many moments; and presently I saw theapparition of Martha Corey, who did torture me so as I cannot express, ready to tear me all to pieces, and then departed from me a little while; but before I could recover strength or well take breath, the apparition of Martha Corey fell upon me again with dreadful torture, and hellish temptations to go along with her. And she also brought to me a little red book in her hand and a black pen, urging mevehemently to write in her book; and several times a day she didgreviously torture me, almost ready to kill me.

deposition: a testimony that is taken under oath that is written down as an official record

wearied: tired

afflicted: suffering

apparition: spirit

vehemently: forcefully

greviously: causing severe pain or grief

sabbath-day: holy day

And on the 19th March, Martha Corey again appeared to me; also Rebecca Nurse, the wife of Francis Nurse, Sr.; and they both did torture me a great many times this day with such great tortures as no tongue can express, because I would not yield to their hellish temptations, that, had I not been upheld by an Almighty arm, I could not have lived [the] night. The 20th March beingsabbath-day, I had a great deal ofrespite between my fits. 21st March being the day of theexamination of Martha Corey I had not many fits, though I was very weak, my strength being as I thought, almost gone. . . . I was several times in the morning [24 March] afflicted by the apparition of Rebecca Nurse, but most dreadfully tortured by her in the time of her examination, insomuch that the honoredmagistrates gave my husband leave to carry me to themeetinghouse; and as soon as I was carried out of the meetinghouse doors, it pleased Almighty God, for his free grace and mercy's sake, to deliver me out of the paws of those roaring lions, the jaws of those tearing bears [so] that ever since that time they have not had the power so to afflict me, until this 31st May 1692.

respite: rest

examination: questioning

magistrates: officers of the court

meetinghouse: a large building for general gatherings and meetings

What happened next . . .

Due in part to Ann Putnam, Sr.'s testimony, both Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse were hanged for supposedly practicing witchcraft. In 1699, both Ann, Sr. and her husband died of an unknown infectious disease within months of one another. At the time, many speculated that they had been cursed by God for their false accusations during the trials.

Did you know . . .

  • Black cats were supposedly the favored form of familiars (demons in animal form) in the middle ages. This led to the popular belief (still held today) that black cats bring you bad luck, and led to mass cat massacres in medieval Europe.
  • It was said that during the witchcraft trials and interrogations, if a fly flew into the room then the accused was assumed to be a witch, and the fly her familiar.

For Further Study

Kupperman, Karen O. Major Problems in American Colonial History. New York: Heath, 1993.

Rice, Earle, Jr. The Salem Witch Trials. San Diego, California: Lucent Books, 1997.

The Salem Witch Museum. [Online] http://www.salemwitchmuseum.com/ (Accessed July 7, 2000).

Starkey, Marion L. The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Doubleday, 1989.